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Year later, bombing of Navy wife's van unsolved

By KATE CALLEN

SAN DIEGO -- For the past year, the charred shell of Sharon Rogers' family van has been locked in storage, waiting for someone to determine who planted a pipe bomb under the Navy wife's vehicle -- and why.

The explosion of the Toyota minivan last March 10 was initially thought to be a reprisal for the deaths of 290 Iranians aboard a civilian plane mistakenly shot down by the USS Vincennes under orders from Rogers' husband, Capt. Will C. Rogers III.

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A year later, the image of the blackened van at a suburban intersection is still vivid. But fears that the attack was the work of foreign terrorists have dimmed as investigators failed to find any firm leads.

Federal agents have neither ruled out nor confirmed the theory that the van was blown up by an operative working for the late Iranian leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

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Nor will investigators discuss other hypotheses for the bombing, including reports that an angry associate of Capt. Rogers has been a suspect and allegations that an extramarital affair involving the Navy skipper could have provided a motive.

With no information to give, federal agents have patiently offered reassurances. 'The scope of the investigation has not narrowed. We're still looking at all avenues and treating this as a very high priority case,' said FBI spokesman Ron Orrantia.

But with no resolution in sight, the Rogerses, along with the community at large, have remained in a psychic limbo.

'It's one thing to deal with an event like that explosion. It's another thing to deal with an event that has not come to a natural conclusion in a reasonable period of time,' said Patrick Shea, an attorney who has represented Mrs. Rogers since the blast.

Immediately after the explosion, which occurred as Mrs. Rogers was driving to her job at the La Jolla Country Day School, the Rogers moved to a Navy base for six weeks and remained under heavy guard after they returned home.

Several anonymous telephone callers told news organizations the bomb was planted by loyalists of the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose followers had vowed revenge for the accidental downing of the Iranian Airbus.

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On May 28, in what was termed a routine transfer, Capt. Rogers turned over command of the ship and began directing a Pacific Fleet training program in San Diego.

Mrs. Rogers never returned to her teaching post. Under pressure from headmaster Timothy Burns and others who said they feared for student safety, she resigned and was given a $135,000 settlement.

Declaring that she would 'start pounding the pavement,' Mrs. Rogers began working as a substitute teacher in a San Diego suburb and became a spokeswoman for Crime Stoppers, a non-profit group that has offered more than $55,000 in reward money for tips on the van bombing.

Then, last fall, news reports said the FBI was questioning George Marxmiller, a former Eastern Airlines pilot whose estranged wife had named Capt. Rogers in a witness in her divorce suit.

Denying any role in the explosion, Marxmiller told the San Diego Tribune he had alerted the FBI to an alleged extramarital affair between Capt. Rogers and an unnamed Maryland woman who supposedly was a friend of Marxmiller's wife.

Marxmiller's wife and others vehemently denied that account. Neither of the Rogerses commented on Marxmiller's story and the couple has since turned down all requests for interviews.

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Judith Ross, executive director of Crime Stoppers, said the Marxmiller wrinkle left the community confused.

'Initially, people were frightened by the thought that a terrorist could come into a quiet neighborhood like that, plant a bomb and leave unseen,' said Ross.

'Then, when news reports began focusing on the possibility that Will Rogers was having an affair, people began thinking, 'Maybe it wasn't terrorism after all.' But the need to know was still there,' said Ross.

Those who have worked with Mrs. Rogers over the past year have marveled at her calm and composure.

'Sharon Rogers is a hero in every sense of the word -- an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary circumstances who has met every criterion of greatness,' said Shea.

'She and Will both showed remarkable self-discipline. It was especially tough for him to go to his job every day and then come home and deal with all the emotional, personal and family difficulties,' said Shea.

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